Friday, July 19, 2013

Ageya Wilderness Education: Words, Photos, Video!

     This summer, rather than heading back to guide in the Kenai Fjords National Park, I chose to do something different. As much as I love guiding in the beauty of the fjords and interacting with a wide variety of people from all over the world, I kept feeling drawn to work more with youth. I also was looking for a longer term program, so as to develop a true relationship with the people I am working with, thus creating a deeper and more lasting impact.

     I got the opportunity to work as a camp counselor/wilderness educator for a summer camp program for Native Alaskan 8th graders called Ageya Wilderness Education, or AWE camp. And let me tell you, this camp is AWESOME. We have 32 kids per session, each coming from a unique place in Alaska, coalescing here in the Kachemak Bay area of Alaska (Homer) with us for almost a whole month, this being the first long experience outside their villages for many of them. The whole goal of the camp is to reinvigorate their heritage within them, and deepen their understanding of how to live life in respect for themselves, others, and the environment.


     We engage the campers in a variety of hands-on learning experiences to gain hard skill in areas such as fire building, backcountry cooking, edible and medicinal plants, leadership, even boat building. That's right, here at Ageya we build traditional skin-on-frame kayaks (baidarkas) and huge open frame canoes (Umiaks) that can hold about a dozen paddlers. We put the boats that have been built over the years to the test by paddling out on the wild Pacific Ocean, exploring the seascape and learning to navigate, read the weather, etc. This provides ample teachable moments in not just marine biology but in how to get along well with each other and form a band of brothers and sisters.The sheer amount of wilderness skill and place-based nature knowledge they develop here, along with the friends they make and the inner lessons they learn is seriously incredible. I've seen 32 kids go back tot heir villages changed young men and women. Apart from all that, its just great to go out camping and paddling with a goofy group of boys in the middle of coastal Alaska's wilderness.


     The camp area is quite the spot. We are perched on the top of East Hill, looking out over Kachemak Bay and the Homer spit. Out to the West are the massive volcanoes that begin the Aleutian Chain, Mt. Redoubt and Iliamna, both rising straight from the ocean at heights just over 10,000 feet, silhouetted in the long lasting setting sun of Alaska's summer. All the kids stay in yurts, nice circular structures full of bunk beds. As staff, we each have our own wall tent, a mix of plywood, mesh, and canvas. Simple and perfect. You can hear the birds chattering, the pattering of rain on the canvas roof, and feel the breeze flow through the semi-permanent cabin. My deck overlooks the mountains across Kachemak Bay. We have a large greenhouse that is exploding with edible plants, vegetables and leafy greens straight from our soil at every meal. A large wind turbine generates much of our electricity, as of its installation last year. We are attempting to become more sustainable, and I am proud to be involved.

     We just got a fresh new batch of kids in from all over Alaska and they are just getting to know each other, many adjusting to a different climate and undoubtedly going through a bit of a cultural shock. They are beginning their journey here with us, and I am excited to see where each one of them takes their experience at camp. My job is to be along with them every step of the way, setting the example and being a support system for them. Details include playing medicine man, kayak instructor, discussion facilitator, hike motivator, firewood collection nazi, music leader, stern voice man, goofy dude, etc. We are having fun. And getting paid? I like this job.


     Here is a video about the camp put together by Kiliii Fish, last year's master boat builder. Check it out, it gives the place a lot more justice than what I can describe in words.

To check out more of Kiliii's work in video and photography, head here

For more info on the camp, check out Ageya

Photo Cred goes out to Ageya staff: Myself, Angela, Tyler Katzmar, and Corey Freeman Corey's Photography